By Lee Payton
Photo © Marty Rosengarten / Ringsidephotos.com
Winky Wright was the kind of fighter manager's feared most. His southpaw jab, craft and tendency to make otherwise special fighters look ordinary was enough to convince many big time players look the other way.
A decade after making a name for himself in the US, Wright finds himself in with another of the sport's very best. This time it's 6'2 fellow lefty Paul Williams, a banger from Georgia, who was thought of as the best welterweight in the world until he left the division in search of meaningful fights.
Both of these men know what it is to be "too good", and it was the familiar reluctance of others that drove the two camps toward an unlikely agreement.
At first glance it would be perfectly understandable to conclude that the younger Williams will just be too fresh for a 37 year old who hasn't fought in about a year and a half, and while I agree that Paul should be heavily favored, I'm not sure we're in for the domination many fans expect. In the 13 years he has competed on the top level, not one opponent has shined against Wright, and many others didn't even bother taking the chance.
Of course, age and inactivity create special circumstances. We've seen time play tricks with what used to be trusty legs and a sturdy chin. Sometimes the stuff that a fighter has counted on in the past just isn't there anymore, and that's the danger for an aging athlete.
However, this is a guy who has seen it all in boxing. He fought extensively on the French circuit during the early part of his pro career. In 1997 he retained his belt in South Africa against unbeaten Harry Simon, only to have it taken away in the locker room minutes later because of a "scoring error". Fernando Vargas saw his KO streak come to an end when he was enjoying his prime years. Wright was able to hush the crowd that came to see him get flattened by Felix Trinidad, and just being in the trenches with Bernard Hopkins probably means the older man has forgotten more about boxing than his young opponent knows.
For as good as the man they call "The Punisher" is, fighting someone with this kind of skill and experience is new to him. Sure, Verno Phillips was a tough nut, and a fighter I've got loads of respect for, but he's certainly never been in the same class as Wright and wasn't capable of giving Williams anything new to think about. And even though Antonio Margarito had more fights, the problems he presented were almost strictly physical.
He's gone up against one other tricky southpaw, named Carlos Quintana, and the results were wildly mixed. A sluggish effort that saw him eating way too many clean punches, was avenged in sudden fashion with a KO in 1. While blasting away a guy that had bested him 4 months earlier is obviously impressive, it doesn't wipe away the defensive lapses that have shown up in virtually all of his fights.
Wright has only one stoppage in his last 15 fights, so there is little worry of getting clipped on the sweet spot. Not that Paul's chin appears to be a concern, as it seems to be right up there with confidence as his best assets. If he needs to worry about any punch in particular, it's that bothersome right jab.
Stylistically, it's quite interesting. Neither fighter is into giving too much ground without getting something in return, which leaves you to wonder who will command the space and the pace of the combat. If they end up standing in front of each other, chipping away behind a high guard, the veteran will be getting what he wants out of the action. That said, I don't think Williams will be all that uncomfortable with what's going on, so it's up to Wright to stay with him.
As professional as he has been, it's a fighter's hubris that keeps me from picking another seasoned underdog. There have been moments like the 12th round against Jermain Taylor, and the free shot he gave Shane Mosley, that force you to wonder about his concentration. There was also a less than desperate showing in final round of a tight one with Vargas. How deep is he willing to dig at this point?
Winky is a tough guy. He's not going out easy to anyone. In fact, if I was confident that the same guy who fought Taylor was going to show up, I'd roll with him to win a close one, but how do I know that he hasn't been splitting his free time between the gentleman's club and his favorite Krispy Kreme?
I'm one of those fans who happens to think Paul Williams has "it". He's not the most technically sound or careful pug in the world, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy with more heart. A talented kid with a scrapper's ticker is a dangerous proposition for anyone, even a proud spoiler. With the fight on the line, I have more faith in Williams to take it, and that's enough this time.
The young, hungry man knocks off the old-timer, who teaches him a thing or two along the way.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
By Lee Payton